Talk:Word (language)

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 Definition A unit of language, often regarded as 'minimally distinctive' and used to build larger structures such as phrases; languages vary in how distinctive word units are and how much they may be modified. [d] [e]
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This will need disambiguation. There is at least also "Word (mathematics)". Should this be "Word (language)", or should the title stay "Word"? Peter Schmitt 09:27, 7 July 2009 (UTC)

I agreed so I went ahead and moved the article. I would argue that Word should redirect here by default, unless others think it likely that many readers would be searching for e.g. Microsoft Word. John Stephenson 08:50, 9 July 2009 (UTC)

Re opening sentence of Word (language)

John, the opening sentence (clause) reads: "A word is a unit of language which exists in contrast to other forms such as phrases;..."

Would the following improve it: "A word is a meaningful unit of language which exists in contrast to other meaningful forms such as phrases and sentences;..."? Stressing 'meaningful', as having meaning characterizes all words. Anthony.Sebastian 03:46, 9 October 2009 (UTC)

I'm not sure about that: it would exclude nonsense words, which are also words. You could argue that nonsense words are not words until someone coins a new word that was previously a nonsense word, I suppose, but that doesn't allow us to define what a word is in itself. A nonsense word is still a word on syntactic, morphological and phonological grounds even if semantically empty. I realise the current definition is inadequate - effectively a what-is-a-planet definition, i.e. it's something that's not a phrase, sentence, etc. - but it's very hard to come up with an explicit definition of what is really something intuitive to us. I'm open to suggestions but I don't think that emphasising meaning is the way to go. John Stephenson 05:32, 9 October 2009 (UTC)
John, I agree, nonsense words are also words, but I do not agree that nonsense words cannot be defined. Indeed, they all share the same definition: a word with no acceptable or determinable meaning, sometimes used by writers for humorous entertainment, as in Lewis Caroll's poem, "Jabberwocky". In other words, words are meaningful in the sense of having no meaning per se.
Perhaps, though, you would prefer this opening sentence: "A word is a unit of language that typically conveys meaning (tree, truth) or facilitates the conveyance of meaning of other words (prepositions, conjunctions), existing in contrast to other linguistic expressions such as phrases and sentences, word combinations that themselves typically convey meaning;..."
To define words as units of language without reference to their primary property of conveying meaning, however much that must be qualified, seems not to give proper due to the definition of 'word', seems not to capture an essential aspect of the word. Anthony.Sebastian 16:06, 19 October 2009 (UTC)
"Words constitute the ultimate texture and stuff of our moral being, since they are the most refined and delicate and detailed, as well as the most universally used and understood, of the symbolisms whereby we express ourselves into existence." —Iris Murdoch

Anthony.Sebastian 16:12, 19 October 2009 (UTC)

I said that words can't be defined on the basis of meaning, not that nonsense words cannot be defined - nonsense words are words and so must be included in the definition. (Words you don't yet know the meaning of are also words, so meaning cannot be fundamental to the definition - how do you recognise that a word is a word even though you don't yet know the meaning? These kinds of questions are yet to be satisfactorily answered by any linguist.)
I think there is the popular definition of words as just self-evidently meaningful units of language, and then there are attempts at a linguistic definition that take into account identification (what is a a word and what isn't), status (is 'the' a word in the same way that 'table' is a word?) and variation (are 'chair' and 'chairs' one word or two?). I think we could establish that in the article - i.e. a popular sense and the linguistic one. John Stephenson 06:30, 23 October 2009 (UTC)